- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2003


Life for Rent


Dido won’t have the luxury of taking us by surprise on her sophomore disc, “Life for Rent.”

Nor can she lean on Eminem for a boost. The wildly popular rapper sampled her breakout hit “Thank You” for his sentimental, by his standards, single “Stan.”

The delicate singer is on her own, and the outlook for an extended career depends on the public’s appetite for sample-fueled melodies meant not for the dance floor but as aids to introspection.

“Life for Rent” reunites the same creative team responsible for her smash 1999 debut, “No Angel,” namely the singer herself and her brother, British DJ Rollo. Both discarded their surname, Armstrong, along the road to fame.

“White Flag,” the first single off “Rent,” strays little from Dido’s chart-topping blueprint. Wispy vocals float above an insurgent drum-beat sample, all building to a chorus that evokes “No Angel” at its peak. Subsequent tracks trade on Dido’s dreamy voice, a lush instrument that adds poignancy to her better lyrics and a gauzy veil over the rest.

The singer-songwriter is 30, so it’s getting harder to excuse her lyrics’ schoolgirlish extended metaphors and cloying sentimentality. Still, the title track’s quiet acoustic strumming makes Dido’s simple poetry easier to swallow. The song finds her grappling with the freedom of her newfound fame yet afraid of where it may take her.

Dido brings some de rigueur female empowerment to the mix as well as all the tumbling emotions of affairs gone south. She may be young, but she manages to tap into familiar romantic frustrations without seeming trite.

“Life for Rent” rarely achieves the intensity of her debut’s best numbers, such as the bitter “Don’t Think of Me.” Yet tracks like “Don’t Leave Home” and “See the Sun” share her first album’s gentle strength. Also give the singer credit for the kind of tasteful vocal restraint foreign to many of her peers.

“Life for Rent” won’t assuage critics who deem her cottony singing a gimmick in a marketplace teeming with tricks. The album does assure everyone else the pleasing trip-hop harmonies of “No Angel” were no fluke.

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